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As you can tell from this website, I read a lot. Generally, I only write about the Irish authors here, but I read a lot more than just Irish books. I recently learned about the reading challenge issued by Laura at, to read a book a month and write about it; so, I decided to take her up on that, and invite others to participate as well. I’ll try to interpret this as one non-Irish book a month, but we’ll see if that sticks.

My first “Year in Books” read is Hild, by Nicola Griffith, which I already finished and loved, so I’ll try to write a review within the next week. Read the rest of this entry »

[I try to keep this as personal blog, but by trade I am a book promoter. As most of the people I engage with both in real life and online are writers and book people, I thought I should share a few observations about the trade. This is the first in an occasional series of posts.]


Local Bookstores vs. “Local” Authors.

One thing that comes up over and over again when self-published or small press authors responsible for their own publicity/marketing discuss bookstores is a level of anger that it’s often difficult to get their books into indie bookstores (either on the shelves or for an event). I often see writers comment online (and hear it at festivals) that “even” their local stores “make it hard” for them and that local stores should want to work with local authors, and somewhere along the way I’ve realized there’s a disconnect between many fledgling writers and bookstores about what exactly a local author is.  Newsflash: it’s about a lot more than your ZIP code.

Let’s start with the obvious factor: physical proximity. Do you live a short drive or walk from the bookstore? This is an essential part of the equation, but it’s not the only relevant consideration. Another question is even more vital: do you shop at this bookstore regularly?  The key difference is between someplace being a local bookstore and it being your local bookstore.

From there the questions go on: How many booksellers do you know on a first name basis? Do they smile or grimace when you walk in? How many events have you attended there? Have you ever ended up in a bar, after hours, boozing it up with a touring author friend, a couple of booksellers from the store, and a sales rep for a publishing company who you still can’t see at a party without blushing?  How many times has the manager pulled a book from under the counter and said, “You’re gonna love this!” the moment you crossed the threshold?

I’m not saying you have to be best friends with the owner and blow your kids’ college savings at the bookstore, but you have to use it. You should be a known face — not necessarily a confidant — and part of the local literary community. If you’ve been working away in beautiful isolation and ordering all your own reading material from Amazon, then how can you expect your local bookstore to regard you as a local author? You’re a local, certainly, and you’re an author, but neither alone is a compelling reason for any bookstore to want to work with you. (They are swamped with authors asking them to carry their books or host events.) They need to know you the individual, and know you have a level of respect and support for their mission before they might consider supporting yours.

Your local store should be the one in the community where you live, where your children go to school, where you and your friends shop, the one with the cafe where you meet for safe first dates, and the place you bring out-of-town family when they visit. If you do not have a local store like this, find one. Pick a store, shop there, chat with the booksellers, ask for recommendations, buy birthday gifts there, attend events, get to know the staff and let them get to know you. It’ll make your literary life more interesting, more varied, and more eventful, and when you finish your manuscript and finally have a book to promote, your local booksellers will be much more enthusiastic and supportive because your success will be personal for them. During the writing process there’s a time for isolation and contemplation, for quiet work and freedom from distractions, but everyone needs a literary community to present their work to, and your local bookstore can be the cornerstone of that.

Bear this in mind: one of the criteria bookstores use in deciding whether to carry your book or to host an event is the question “Does this author have a local network to mobilize in support of their book?” If you haven’t even bothered to get to know people at the area bookstore, this doesn’t suggest you’ll be any better at networking in any other aspect of your life.

Bottom line: No bookstore is compelled to work with an author, especially not one who claims to be local, but whom they’ve never seen or heard from before. Take the time to get involved in your local literary community and support your local bookstore, your life will be the richer for it, and the booksellers will be more inclined to support your book in turn.

This is not to say that cultivating a good relationship with your local bookstore is the only thing you need to make a successful book. It’s just one part of your overall marketing plan — I’ll try to write about some of the others shortly. But, it’s a key relationship, and new writers should not take it for granted.

Trench goes in, dirt goes everywhere…

After two weeks of false starts, the plumber came on Friday and the new water line was in by early afternoon. He came back for a few hours on Saturday morning to finish backfilling the trench, and clean up. Then it was over to me to put the garden back to rights.

First obstacle was the steep bank up from the water meter.

Next obstacle was all the tree roots. Somehow the guys were able to leave the patio peach more-or-less intact.

This thing made digging light work.

From this…

…to this by the end of the day. Still a lot of work to do.

I’m going to have to add a lot of compost to those front beds to make up for all the clay that’s been mixed in as a result of the ditch-digging. But most of the plants I moved seem perfectly happy in their temporary home, so I’m optimistic that I can get the beds back to decent shape by the end of the month. How long the grass will take might be a different matter. I hope we have a few wet weeks soon.

The trench for the water line should go through the middle of this bed.

I’ve been staying away from blogging lately (and Facebook, Twitter, etc.) because in the first place I have little “spare” time right now, but mainly I have too many petty grumbles and wasn’t feeling like sharing. But, I do miss the conversations and camaraderie that comes from all this social malarky, so I’m trying to get back into it.

Put simply, issues at my children’s school, injuries, and a leaking water line have eaten up most of my non-work hours. The school thing seems to be resolved, the cat has had his cast removed and his leg appears to be as good as new (in your face vet who said he needed surgery!), and the plumber is scheduled (weather permitting) to come dig up the yard and lay a new water line on Friday. So, I’m dipping a newly-healed toe carefully back into the blogging world with some pics of our front yard, newly stripped of most of its flowering plants, and anything else that was standing in the way of the replacement water line.

The main challenge facing us for the new water line is the number of trees in the way (as well as those pesky gas and sewer lines…). We’re taking the slightly longer way around the house in order to avoid a huge Norway Spruce on the southeast side. The expense of having that puppy removed if we damaged its roots would be considerable. We still have (or had) a small (junk) cherry, a low-growing evergreen (possibly a spruce of some kind), a patio peach, a dogwood, and a service berry to work around (why do we have so many trees in such a small space? It just sort of happened…). I took the junk cherry out (it was a volunteer anyway) and removed the smaller spruce. As we’re using flexible pex pipe, we plan to dig a curving trench that avoids at least the service berry and dogwood. The patio peach may be OK, but if it has to go, so be it.

Two rock walls, a gate, and a section of fence had to be removed.

A dull picture, I know. The water meter is at the foot of this bank. There was a small spruce growing all over the slope (I forgot to take a “before” pic). It’s now firewood.

The view looking the other way, back up towards the veg garden. There were a lot of plants to dig up in this section (they’re now temporarily in an empty raised bed). Removing them wasn’t fun, as I still had 2 broken toes at this point.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to start replanting everything this weekend. If I’m feeling creative, I might even be able to rethink this front garden space. It’ll be good to get this project crossed off the to-do list in any case, not to mention that it should have a very positive effect on our future water bills.

Is it just me, or is this early summer so many of us in the northern hemisphere seem to be experiencing proceeding at an accelerated rate? The yellow has quickly faded from my garden; the daffodils are already gone, the forsythia is dropping the last of its petals today, and the Jasmine (or yellow bells as some of my NC neighbors call it) bloomed way back at New Years, was nipped by frost, and is gone. The tulips are abundant this week, but will surely be gone by Easter. Last week I noticed the swelling buds in the crab apple that towers above the raspberry patch and thought “that’ll be beautiful for our Easter Egg hunt in two weekends.” Yesterday it was in full bloom, and today the pink petals are already drifting slowly down. They’ll probably be gone by the end of the weekend. Same with the azalea by the back door. I thought it would be brilliant with color in a week or two, but it’s opening now. Hopefully it’ll still be in bloom in two weeks.

Crab Apple in bloom. The camera doesn't really do justice to the vibrant reddish pink of the petals.


Azalea and Geranium. The colors come through better in this as the sun was shining at the time.

Maybe I just feel I’m missing things because I’m cooped up with a broken toe that’s making it surprisingly uncomfortable to take care of garden chores? Working indoors and hearing the birdsong and seeing the glorious days that are in it is not any sort of substitute to being out there getting the hands dirty, planting, pruning, and doing all the other small tasks that become pleasure when accompanied by the constant buzzing of the bees, quick flits of birds scoring nest-building materials or nabbing a careless worm from a freshly watered vege bed (or maybe the pleasure lies in the absence of a clicking keyboard and the ping of incoming emails?). For extra comedy value, our cat is now sporting a cast on his leg after somehow dislocating his ankle a few days ago. (My suspicion is he pursued one of his mortal-enemy squirrels up a tree and landed awkwardly afterwards.) Now he’s cooped up in the bathroom so he doesn’t make the injury worse trying to be his usual big bad self. At least we’re company in our mutual grumpiness.


The unhappy Capt. Jack

While I’m less mobile, I’ve been reading about the early burial practices of the megalithic tombs builders in Ireland, and learning about what they considered precious objects to inhume with the ashes of their dead: very practical things (pestle stones, bone pins, and pottery jars). I’ve also been gardening vicariously through some wonderful blogs (Arigna Gardener and A Place in the Country are top-notch), and picking away at the plot holes of my novel-in-progress. (Lest you think I am able to amuse myself all the time, I will comment that my day job has also been fairly intense lately. There’s a stack of new manuscripts to read for the books we’re publishing in the fall, marketing copy to write, and I’ve been finalizing summer events for our authors up and down the country.)

Actually, it occurs to me that my work may also be contributing to this sense that things are progressing very quickly this year. Working in publishing is a slightly disorienting experience because we work on books that won’t come out for 6-9 months, and by the time they’re arriving on bookstore shelves, we’ve shifted our focus to the next batch another 6-7 months hence. Right now I’m planning events for this October and November, and have actually pitched several things for summer 2013. No wonder time seems to be slipping by at a fast clip.

Maybe that’s why I relax through gardening? It grounds me in the now, in the dirt. Does this plant need water? Do I need to weed, fertilize, mulch, or divide? What’s ready to pick today? All this resting, icing and elevating my foot is keeping me indoors too much, and I’m feeling a little out of touch with the now. Maybe the solution is simply to take one of those manuscripts out into the sun and find a good spot to get some work done?


Inspired by the excellent Irish permaculture blog A Life in the Country, I tried my hand at a making a couple of teepees to support the peas and beans. Not having a handy supply of willow, I used the long, thin cherry branches I cut from the stump of the not-quite-dead-yet cherry I cut down last year. They were relatively fresh and therefore still fairly flexible. My first efforts weren’t quite as tidy as those at Bealtaine, but I think they’ll do the job, and they do keep those cherry trimmings out of the brush pile for the city to collect.

The taller will house the snow peas, the other the pod peas.

Yes, I used some training wire and twine to keep it together.

I also went on a baking frenzy on St. Paddy’s morning because I was feeling slightly lazy over watching so much rugby (it was the final day of the Six Nations). So, we have plenty of carbs for the weekend. Wish I could say any of the ingredients came from our garden, but all we’ve got left right now is some spinach and assorted herbs.  Still, I’ve planted a lot of onions, peas, kale, lettuce, and most of the fruit trees and shrubs are beginning to leaf out, so we’ll start harvesting this year’s bounty in the next couple of months.

Traditional brown bread, some soda bread, and scones that turned out way too sweet.

The patio peach has become nirvana for the local bee population.

Twin explosions of yellow announce the forsythia. Random trees & shrubs soak up the sun on the rustic patio while we decide where to plant them.

This Alyssium is always one of the first plants to bloom in spring.

Grape Hyacinths. Probably time to dig these up and give them some more room.

This early spring/non-existant winter has got everything off to a great start in the garden this year. Daffodils and hyacinths are plentiful, the forsythia and spirea have bloomed, and the first rhubarb stems are breaking through the crust of dried leaf mulch one bed over from where the jagged leaves of new raspberry canes are emerging.

As usual, I pulled the random collection of potted shrubs, trees we bought years ago and haven’t found a permanent home for yet, and other plants I didn’t know what else to do with out of the shed and into the sun. Our yard probably isn’t big enough to absorb this random collection of red oaks, maples, butterfly bushes, brooms, and other things, but that didn’t stop me buying another dogwood and our first plum at the garden center last weekend. (I’m hankering for more fruit trees this year.) I built a new raised raspberry bed, spread all the compost, and turned one vegetable bed before breaking something in my foot (hopefully just a toe) yesterday, so hopefully these pics won’t represent both the beginning and the end of my garden labor for the season.

The bees are out in earnest and I’ve even seen a few moths fluttering around the flowers. We’ve had our first random bear cubs wandering around downtown, so it’s probably time to take the bird-feeders down lest we attract some unwanted visitors.

I haven’t had to mow the grass yet, but I confess to getting the strimmer out to trim the verge here and there.  The local yard crews are in full whir (eager to start earning some money again) and it won’t be long before my yard starts to look leggy in comparison to the neatness next door.

In light of the foot, it’s time to look at the chore list and decide what must be done, and what can wait until I’m more mobile. The back gate that a taxi driver knocked over on New Year’s Eve is still broken, but there’s no urgency on repairing that (there are several other gates to the yard). I have several big privet bushes I was nearly finished uprooting, and they will have to go so I can get that dogwood and some rhododendrons in the ground. I may just have to get a chainsaw to finish that job; it would be faster than hacking away with a mattock.

Hopefully there’ll be more blooms next month. The first ranunculus is flower is about to open, the azaleas are studded with tiny buds, the plum is beginning to blossom, and there are even a few strawberry plants about to flower. So, there should be plenty of color to keep both the bees and the humans happy for the next little while, even if I’m largely a spectator for the next few weeks…

The first primrose of the year has arrived earlier than usual in our garden and peeks uncertainly above the blanket of leaves that will hopefully keep it sheltered through the worst of the winter weather to come. I admire these hardy early bloomers who impetuously put on their sunday best and stride out to meet the world head on, regardless of propriety or the expectations of others.

May we all have the self-confidence of the primrose in this new year, and may all our contributions beautify the drab world in our own ways.

We went for a hike up off the Blue Ridge Parkway last weekend. The color is marvelous, as you can see. Not peaked yet, there’s too much green for that. The reads are making a terrific show just now, with the yellows beginning to come in.

Sassafras “ghosts” — very suitable to be turning gold in time for Halloween.

Back at home the Virginia Creeper has turned bright red as it spills down from the trellis. The show makes the mundane chores of leaf-raking, weeding and mulching so much more enjoyable — especially as we still have plenty of sunshine during the days (even as the tender plants were bitten by the first frost the other night).

I learned to program before Windows (yes, on a non-IBM-compatible machine in a world before floppy disks) in the blinking light of MSDos, and because of that hard-earned knowledge I resisted Macs for quite a while. In college I became bi-lingual, using whichever machine was available to me, but as my part-time job was running a PC lab, Windows came to dominate my world. Finally, my better half switched to a new job with an organization that only used Macs, and I realized what those early green-screened Apple IIes had evolved into, and when I need a new computer earlier this year I test drove a lot of PCs, but they all felt like a big step back in time: flimsy, slow and uncooperative. I drank the apple juice and I couldn’t go back.

Not being a longtime fanboy, I really didn’t know much about Steve Jobs, but what I’ve read in last 24 hours makes me begin to regret that. As his products attest, Steve Jobs was far more than merely a CEO. Here’s a taste of why complete strangers are mourning his passing:

The coolest ad ever (via Colleen at The Swivet):


And I though this was a nice tribute to Jobs over on Gizmodo

Non-mac users may not get the brilliant xkcd today, but it’s quite touching (check the ALT tag).

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